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GB, Sweden and France lead Olympic challenge

Published: Monday 23 July 2012, 15.51CET
European contenders Great Britain, Sweden and France have realistic hopes of gold when the Olympic women's tournament begins on Wednesday, but all have tough groups ahead of them.
by Paul Saffer
from London
GB, Sweden and France lead Olympic challenge
Great Britain drew 0-0 in their debut international against Sweden on Friday ©Getty Images
Published: Monday 23 July 2012, 15.51CET

GB, Sweden and France lead Olympic challenge

European contenders Great Britain, Sweden and France have realistic hopes of gold when the Olympic women's tournament begins on Wednesday, but all have tough groups ahead of them.

The only two previous European nations to win Olympic women's football medals are absent this time, but all three UEFA representatives have serious ambitions of taking gold.

Norway were bronze medallists at the inaugural event in 1996 before striking gold four years later, when Germany began a run of three straight third-place finishes. This time Sweden and France, by reaching the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup semi-finals, ensured their presence alongside hosts Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Team GB are playing their first competitive women's football matches in any form. Coach Hope Powell has picked 16 of her charges as England manager along with Scotland centre-back Ifeoma Dieke and attacker Kim Little. Both started a 0-0 draw with Sweden in Middlesbrough on Friday and looked the part; indeed Little should have no problem adapting as her colleagues in the front four could well be Arsenal LFC club-mates Ellen White, Rachel Yankey and, just weeks after recovering from a broken leg, Kelly Smith.

They kick-off the Olympic football on Wednesday in Cardiff against New Zealand, when the previous British record crowd for an international women's match of 29,092 is set to be broken. Newcomers Cameroon make up the group along with the team that won the last two silver medals – Marta's Brazil – and GB midfielder Jill Scott cannot wait.

"We are very privileged and honoured to be in this position and we just want to go on and enjoy the whole experience," she said. "It has been slowly sinking in, but I can't describe how we'll probably all feel when Wednesday comes along. At the minute, it is just excitement."

Sweden were missing key forward Lotta Schelin due to a calf injury on Friday but look set to welcome her back as spearhead of Thomas Dennerby's new 4-2-3-1 formation against debutants South Africa. Along with the United States and Brazil, Sweden are taking part in their fifth Olympic tournament. Unlike those countries, they have never taken a medal, but third place at the World Cup has given the Scandinavian side hope as they prepare to play their only competitive football before hosting UEFA Women's EURO 2013.

Dennerby's team also meet the side the beat them in the World Cup semi-finals, eventual champions Japan, and Canada. The coach said: "It is essential that we take it one game at a time and not look too far ahead. That's what we did so well last year. Nobody wants to go to a new championship and do worse than before."

France, beaten by Sweden for World Cup bronze, have since won 17 straight games culminating in last week's 2-0 defeat of Japan. Considering Bruno Bini's squad is based around the Olympique Lyonnais players who have triumphed in the last two UEFA Women's Champions League finals, many believe this could be the tournament where Les Bleues establish themselves as a true world-class force.

They have a tough start in Glasgow against the team that ended their World Cup hopes – the United States, gold medallists at three of the four previous editions. North Korea and first-timers Colombia are also in Group G. Bini, who expects to have the vastly experienced Sandrine Soubeyrand fit, said: "We are well prepared, but we have not won anything yet, although for the public and the media [the Japan friendly] was a test. In competition, it's always a different story."

European contenders:

Great Britain & Northern Ireland (Group E)
Fixtures: 25 July v New Zealand (Cardiff), 28 July v Cameroon (Cardiff), 31 July v Brazil (Wembley)
Key players: Ifeoma Dieke (defender, Vittsjö GIK), Fara Williams (midfielder, Everton LFC), Kelly Smith (forward, Arsenal LFC)
Qualified: Hosts

Sweden (Group F)
Fixtures: 25 July v South Africa (Coventry), 28 July v Japan (Coventry), 31 July v Canada (Newcastle)
Key players: Charlotte Rohlin (defender, Linköpings FC), Caroline Seger (midfielder, Tyresö FF), Lotta Schelin (forward, Olympique Lyonnais)
Qualified: FIFA Women's World Cup third place

France (Group G)
Fixtures: 25 July v US (Glasgow), 28 July v North Korea (Glasgow), 31 July v Colombia (Newcastle)
Key players: Sonia Bompastor (defender, Olympique Lyonnais), Camille Abily (midfielder, Olympique Lyonnais), Louisa Necib (forward, Olympique Lyonnais)
Qualified: FIFA Women's World Cup fourth place

Top two in each group plus two best third-placed teams go into quarter-finals.

Quarter-finals (3 August)
1: 1F v 2G (Glasgow)
2: 1G v 3E/F (Newcastle)
3: 2E v 2F (Cardiff)
4: 1E v 3F/G (Coventry)

Semi-finals (6 August)
Winner QF1 v Winner QF3 (Wembley)
Winner QF2 v Winner QF4 (Old Trafford)

Medal matches (9 August)
Bronze (Coventry)
Gold/Silver (Wembley)

Past medallists
2008: US (gold), Brazil (silver), Germany (bronze)
2004: US (gold), Brazil (silver), Germany (bronze)
2000: Norway (gold), US (silver), Germany (bronze)
1996: US (gold), China (silver), Norway (bronze)

Last updated: 23/07/12 21.09CET

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